Trump tweet marks escalation in Syria tensions

Allegations of a chemical attack by the Syrian regime has opened the door to potential conflict between Russia, Syria and the West.
Wednesday 11/04/2018
US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley (C) votes in favour of creating an investigation on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, at United Nations headquarters in New York, on April 10, 2018.  (AFP)
Deadlock. US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley (C) votes in favour of creating an investigation on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, at United Nations headquarters in New York, on April 10, 2018. (AFP)

TUNIS – US President Donald Trump has warned Russia to “get ready” for US strikes on Syria in a blistering tweet admonishing the Kremlin for its partnership with the Assad regime.

Trump was presumably responding to comments by Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin, who said during an April 10 broadcast that any US missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launch sites targeted, a step that could trigger a major escalation in the Syrian conflict.

Responding to Trump’s tweet, a Russian foreign ministry spokesperson said: “Smart missiles should fly towards terrorists, not [a] legal government.”

Allegations of a chemical attack by the Syrian regime on the Damascus suburb of Douma has sharply divided global opinion and opened the door to a potentially significant conflict between Russia, Syria and the West.

During a stormy meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on April 10, both Russia and the US used their vetoes to block rival plans for responding to the alleged attack through normal diplomatic channels.

The US resolution, vetoed by Russia, proposed forming an independent mechanism to investigate any chemical weapons attack in Syria and assign responsibility independently. Two counter resolutions, proposed by Russia and vetoed by the US, the UK and France, left the assignment of responsibility to the Security Council, a move the Kremlin could use its veto to block.

Though both Russia and the Assad regime deny that any attack occurred, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that around 500 people in Douma were treated for symptoms consistent with exposure to a chemical weapons attack.

According to a statement issued in Geneva on April 11, further to the 500 exposed to the gas, more than 70 people died after sheltering in basements within Douma. Forty-three of those deaths were related to symptoms "consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals," the WHO said, citing reports from trained local health partners.

Though the WHO stressed that it held no formal role in any forensic inquiries underway in Douma, its comments have added to tensions over Damascus’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

In April of last year, the US launched a limited strike on regime positions following Damascus’s use of chemical weapons, deploying 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles against the location where the attack was thought to have originated. This time, it is understood that the US and its allies in France and Britain are considering a more extensive deployment, with one US official telling the Associated Press that a range of options were being discussed, "including preventing Assad from conducting future attacks by striking military capabilities involved in carrying out such attack."